Plant-based Eating and Weight

“So, are you losing weight?” is a question I’ve been asked quite frequently since I’ve been eating strictly plant-based. I am hesitant to respond lightly. The answer often requires a ‘no, but…’ or ‘yes, but…’.  In addition, my motivation for plant-based is not about weight, it’s about how nutritious or detrimental the food is that I’m putting into my body every day to make it work at it’s most optimal level. The food I eat directly impacts my work, exercise, interactions with my friends and family, energy levels and mood.  That being said, I have experienced some interesting weight changes along the journey, so it is a good question and one I should address in a forum where I can provide a longer answer.

I came across an interesting article recently, titled “5 Reasons You’re Not Losing  Weight on a Vegan Diet” by Cynthia Sass.  It was right in line with my views and contained additional thoughts I hadn’t considered.  The one I related to the most was around portion sizes.  As she points out, “The amount [of food] your body needs is largely based on your age, sex, height, ideal body weight, and physical activity level. This is true whether you are eating animal products or not”.  Her point? You can still over-eat on a plant-based diet, even if the food you are eating is more nutritious.

This may seem intuitive, but it can be tricky when you change your eating habits.  When I began eating plant-based, I lost a slight amount of weight initially and this change caused me to stop paying as much attention to what I was eating, thinking I could eat a lot more food.  I had already cut out eggs and meats from my diet, which are really high in calories, surely I could eat more healthy foods in their place.  In addition, I was spending more time on food focused social media pages.  If you’dve done this, especially instagram and youtube, or some blogs, the portion sizes people display in their pictures to make their food look attractive are often wayyy overblown and not realistic. I’ve seen a ridiculous amount of youtube videos showing giant ‘food hauls’ or daily menu planning which I know I can’t consume in one day and would be surprised if anyone could.

After the initial weight-loss I experienced, fast forward a few months and things changed in the other direction.  I noticed I felt really full after meals, was not as hungry for dinner and not as comfortable in my clothes.  I weighed myself at the gym, which I typically do not like to do, and found I had gained about 5 or so extra pounds. On my smaller frame this was noticeable and strange to me when my weight doesn’t  normally fluctuate too often.  Nothing else besides food had changed in my lifestyle, so I decided to pay more attention to what I was eating.

I made slight adjustments to my meals.  I experimented with different types of foods, looking at the nutritional content and amount of grains, legumes, natural fats and starchy vegetables I was eating.  Although all of these foods play very important roles for certain functions of our body, I needed to understand what those were and the appropriate portions sizes.  I had completely changed my diet from what I had eaten my entire life, so it made sense that this practice would need to occur.  I also tracked my meals for a few days in MyFitnessPal.  After a several weeks, I was back on track and at the weight where I was most comfortable.  The best thing is, I did not feel deprived of food.  I still felt full, just not too much.  I do attribute this to the healthy content of plant foods.

I do think you can become much healthier and have better control over your weight on a plant-based diet.  However, it can be easy to get off track when eating any type of food.  It is important to be aware of the portions that are right for you, understand the foods you eat, and be very cautious not to rely on social media too much for this guidance.  Understand YOUR body.  If you embark on a plant-based journey, remember that not everyone is built the same or has the same experience with food.